Panama — farewell

Panama-Chinese“On March 30 of 1854 about 1,600 Chinese laborers came to Panama by way of Canada and Jamaica to work on the Panama Railroad,” according to Juan Tam of the Chinese Association of Panama. Today, Panama’s Chinese-speaking community has been estimated at 150,000, with many more Panamanians having some Chinese blood in their family tree.

That was one of the surprises I found in Panama. I’ve been attending a conference in a section of Panama City that is favored by Panamanians of Chinese descent and recent Chinese immigrants. There are Chinese grocery stores, shelves lined with exotic spices. There are Chinese restaurants, of course, where both Chinese and Spanish are spoken. I even saw a combination Chinese video store and hair salon.

A short walk to the south from here I found an impressive-looking school, the Sun Yat Sen Center for Chinese-Panamanian Culture, named after the man known as the “father of modern China,” Dr. Sun Yat Sen.

I also meandered through some nearby residential areas and found more evidence of prosperity here than I have seen in Mexico. The houses in this area are all in excellent repair, recently painted, with small, beautiful lawns and gardens. Every house had at least two cars, mostly recent models, with a great many SUVs.

There were wrought-iron security fences around the houses and over the windows, as in Mexico, but nowhere did I see the sort of extreme measures — high walls topped with broken glass — that are common elsewhere in Latin America.

I’ve enjoyed my stay in Panama. It’s a beautiful country, with some of the friendliest people I’ve met anywhere. Tomorrow morning we fly home. I’ll be sorry to leave.

Photo credit: The Panama News

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  1. I enjoyed reading these “snapshots” of your visit to Panama; thanks for sharing them. It’s wonderful that you had opportunity to travel there.

  2. Charlie,

    I’m just catching up again after my trip to Poland (Poland and Panama both start with a “P” so they must be near each other).

    Quite a while ago I listened to Theodore Rex as a book-on-tape. It’s the second of a three-part biography of Teddy Roosevelt, and it covers his presidency. You reminded me that they brought in Chinese workers–was it only 1,600? From the book, the work sounded devastating (to the workers).

    I hear about Panama and other Central/South American countries as possible retirement locations, where it’s so much cheaper to live than the US, but in my mind those countries all seem so unstable and their economies so vulnerable to the whims of the latest government.

    Your report is the first I’ve read (that’s not a sales pitch) that says, yes, Panama is not only stable, it’s thriving. It’s good to hear that about even one Latin American country. I hope the other countries will wake up somehow and look to Panama for inspiration.


  3. juan tam says

    Correction… The Chinese workers came from China in 1854, aboard a Clipper, named the Sea Witch. You are most welcome to visit Panama, and if you ever need help in becoming a resident or purchase property do not hesitate, and drop me a line.

    By the way, I am also a travel agent, and real estate broker.

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